This year was all about connectivity – we saw manufacturers in every industry integrating it across product ranges, but also saw huge gaps in terms of common standards for connectivity between appliances, and consumers struggling to understand products currently on shelves. We also witnessed:
The dawn of 8K TV
Commercially available 8K, at that. It’s early days, and may seem premature given that content and bandwidth haven’t really caught up yet, but Samsung still stole the show with an 8K TV that will actually go on sale this year. Sure to be a leader in this sphere, Samsung even offers "intelligent upscaling", to enhance existing 4K content to a near-8K experience. Expect to see a lot of “future-proof” and “8K-ready” products.
There’s definitely a risk of oversupply outstripping demand, but Netgear’s Orbi Voice - combining a Wi-Fi router with mesh network capabilities that boosts Wi-Fi in every room with an Alexa-compatible Harman Kardon smart speaker - certainly stands out. The Beosound Edge – which sits on the floor like a piece of furniture or hangs on the wall as a piece of sound-emitting artwork – also has some pretty cool features, including rocking it back and forth to adjust volume and 360-degree sound.
This emerging trend of Alexa routers is a fascinating one. Citing Star Trek communicators as inspiration for Alexa, Amazon’s keynote address was all about building a new industry; it wants us to talk to everything, everywhere.
Nubia’s Alpha blew everyone away – it’s a wearable smartphone with a flexible OLED screen that wraps around your wrist and has an integrated camera for video calls. And it’s set for release at the end of this year. Also showcased were Audio-Technica’s ATH-SR30BT wireless headphones, with an incredible 70-hour battery life, and some competition for Apple from luxury (now smartwatch) brand Fossil.
With hardware being rapidly commoditised, manufacturers are focusing on improving software, apps and the overall experience of using smart home devices, recognising this as the primary battleground for differentiation from rivals. With a rise in people making the effort to live a healthier lifestyle, we also noted (from the likes of Netatmo) that air quality is becoming a key measurement and metric for smart homes.
It’s finally time to get excited about 5G. The CEO of Sony's mobile division made it clear that the brand views 5G as an opportunity to improve its market position. Keen to invest in home-grown technologies and eager to progress in the mobile industry, Huawei also unveiled its gaming phone, Honor Play, another attractively priced device that will put the pressure on subscale phone-makers like HTC, Sony and Wiko.
Our other highlights…
Robotics is getting really interesting; LG’s machines can share information in malls and airports, transport luggage, and assist with shopping and mobility problems. We also saw Polaroid’s disruptive comeback range, beautifully blending its classic and unique analogue style with a new digital infusion. The new OneStep+ cameras feel and work just like the old ones, but Bluetooth connectivity to the new Polaroid Originals app kits users out with features like filters, double exposure and light painting.
What we’re taking away from IFA 2018
There weren’t as many breakthrough products this year but there was definitely a sense of gaining momentum – brands are increasingly aware that blending software (especially AI), hardware and services to provide the best possible consumer experience is what gains a competitive edge.